Never mind Downton - every home should have a real library
A library - that is, a collection of books - is a civilising influence, mind-expanding and entertaining, writes Trevor Dolby.I'm hooked on The Week magazine. It's the first thing I grab of a Saturday morning following a race for the off button as the fatuous Saturday Live comes on the wireless. Quite what Radio 4 thinks is Radio 4-ish about this hour's-worth of utter tosh is beyond me. I can only guess Mark Damazer signed up the programme by mistake from hospital radio and can't wriggle out of the contract.
So, as the news fades and on comes the tum-ti-tum-ti-tum of fifth-form poetry and ribald, rabbiting vicar, off goes the Roberts and out comes The Week. I've taken it since it started some 15 or so years ago. It's like Private Eye, kind of predictable but a not unpleasant habit. The format and layout have never changed. I can read it cover-to-cover in about 55 minutes - spookily the same length of time as Saturday Live.
The Week bills itself as "The Best of British and Foreign Media". In fact, it doesn't really give a perspective on anything much. It doesn't cover much news, doesn't give any sort of in-depth round-up or provide much of an editorial crucible for extrapolation or debate. In the end it's an arbitrary hotch-potch of "trucs" (I'm on hols in France) completely at the mercy of the format. But I look forward to it in the same way as a 10-year-old I looked forward to Butterscotch Angel Delight on a Saturday teatime.
My favourite is the "Wit and Wisdom" section. Last week's quotes included a fab Dorothy Parker I hadn't heard: "Take me or leave me; or, as is the usual order of things, both". And a cracker from Letterman on Mitt Romney: "...now there's a guy who looks like you would see his picture on a package of men's briefs". But the one I took away with me was Cicero in the Daily Telegraph: "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."
A house with a library is a civilised place. By library I mean a collection of books, not just the Downton variety. It is a place to expand the mind and be entertained. It is a place where one is surrounded by the voices of talented people whom one knows but have perhaps never met. It is the best of these fellows. The best of their considered ideas and thought. Better in many respects than meeting them in person. Samuel Johnson round for dinner? Indubitably not sir!
As a library, so a garden. A garden can be a great expression of taste and style, of knowledge and graft, of emotion and intelligence. It has its own balance of order and informality. As with a library, a garden can be a place of art or a paean to one's own quiet taste. It can be a romp or a place of meaning.
I might add food and cooking to the pot, but who am I to sully Cicero?
Like many when I find a book I love, I go buy a first edition, signed if possible. It's an expression of its specialness. But of course that signed first edition is not the book I read. By the same token is an ebook ever the book we read? In Far Eastern cultures it doesn't matter much that there is a physical bond between an object and its life. Lisa Jardine has elaborated on this subject, relating that the Kiyomizu-dera (Clear Water Temple) near Kyoto has been built many times over since it was first constructed 1,200 years or so ago. But ask a guide if it is the original temple, and there is no discussion. Of course it is. It is the embodiment of its own history. It's meaning and identity is not a function of its physical presence. In the West we have much more of problem with this idea. If my father replaced the blade, and my grandfather the handle, is this still my father's axe?
Why is it a sequitur, in my view, that books sold in e-format have no emotional value, but the first signed edition I bought and "have not read" has?
Rave on James Daunt and the Nook.
Rave on Independent book shops.
Rave on ebook plurality.
Rave on words on printed page.
Trevor Dolby is publisher of Preface